Updated 4:14 p.m. | The Senate voted to send a one-year debt limit suspension to President Barack Obama’s desk Wednesday, after a high-drama cliffhanger that ended when Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, voted “aye” to end a filibuster.
The Senate voted 67-31 to end a filibuster on the legislation threatened by tea party firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in a vote that took nearly an hour to complete as senators wrestled with their decision. The Senate then voted 55-43 to pass the bill with a simple majority threshold.
McConnell and Cornyn voted to cut off debate when the measure appeared stuck just short of the 60 votes needed.
A dozen Republicans voted with Democrats in all, most in a clump after McConnell and Cornyn led the way: John Barrasso of Wyoming, Susan Collins of Maine, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, John McCain of Arizona, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John Thune of South Dakota.
Cruz forced the 60-vote threshold, putting his fellow Republicans on the hot seat as they had to choose between a filibuster — potentially leading to the nation’s first ever default and a government shutdown — and putting the issue behind them ahead of the midterm elections.
Cruz had argued Republicans should stick together to extract spending cuts from Democrats and President Barack Obama, but McConnell privately had counseled against another shutdown showdown.
Kirk said his party was sharply divided over strategy behind the scenes, including a dispute between McConnell and Cruz. He told reporters why he planned to vote to advance the debt limit bill: “I just want the orderly administration of the U.S. debt,” he said.
Cruz and outside tea party groups have ripped the party’s leadership in both chambers for caving to President Barack Obama’s demands for a clean debt limit hike. But the House voted narrowly to pass the debt limit Tuesday after Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said Republicans were unable to unite behind any alternative.
The difficulty of the vote may suggest that debt limit brinkmanship may just be on hiatus, even if it’s over for this Congress.
Once signed by the president, the debt limit will be suspended until March 2015, at which point it will be raised to whatever level of debt has been incurred. That number will likely be at least $500 billion higher given the expected size of the federal deficit.
Humberto Sanchez and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.